Sunday, January 28, 2007

Avalanche Clinic

Two Saturdays ago I attended an avalanche clinic. Work worked it with the Utah Avalanche Center to provide a two-day avalanche clinic for employees of Thursday night was the classroom session where we spent 3 hours learning some basics on avalanches. Our instructor was incredibly enthusiastic. He is one person that you can tell is very passionate and loves his job. I have been to a few classroom discussions that covered the same material but this guy made it extremely enjoyable.

Saturday was field day at The Canyons. The entire group of us, about 40 or so plus 8 guides (most of whom are all avalanche educators), met just before 8:00 and caught a pre-opening gondola ride up to mid-mountain. From there we split into four predetermined groups. The day was going to be made up of four mini-clinics with each group rotating through each clinic.

The day started off for my group with a rescue scenario. We ducked out-of-bounds and skinned partway up a ridge to catch a few turns to where the rescue scenario would begin. The rescue scenario was this: "We had just skied into an area where an avalanche just happened. There were some bystanders who saw the slide. They said there were two people buried. One with a beacon and one without." We took stock of the situation and broke into two groups. One group doing a beacon search and the rest of use forming a probe line to find the victim who didn't have a beacon. We were a little rusty getting started, but it was most of our first time doing any kind of rescue scenarios. All in all it wasn't too bad. It took the beacon searchers about 5 minutes to find the first victim and it took us about 20 minutes to find the second victim (without a beacon). All in all it wasn't too bad for our first time. We then regrouped at the top of the "slide path" and recapped what happened. We discussed what went well, what could have been improved, and what didn't go well. It was very informative and helpful to finally put some knowledge to the test.

Second up for the day was beacon drills. The instructor took us through the fundamentals of how beacons work. We then did a test to see the effective working range and maximum search range of our individual beacons. Then we went through the basics of doing a beacon search. We then did drills where we had to go find beacons that were buried. We did single burials and multiple burials. Once again this was extremely informative. I had previously done some drills for single beacon searches, but never anything for multiple burials.

Third was snowpits. We ducked out-of-bounds again and made a short skin up a ridge. We reconvened at the top and discussed various things that can affect snow. We also talked about some basic steps in determining if you are in dangerous terrain. We then ducked off the ridge and started digging pits. The instructor for this portion was Bruce Tremper. Bruce is the head of the Utah Avalanche Center and is one of the foremost avalanche educators in the country. We went through the basics of how to dig an effective snow pit. Once we had our pits dug Bruce explained various tests to check snow stability. There was a test that I learned that is relatively new and is very effective. I also was able to participate in a ruschtblock test. I had read about this test previously but I haven't ever done one.

Yours truly in green and Bruce in red.

Fourth was safe travel through avalanche terrain. This was also informative but it was very hard to pay attention. It was the end of the day and I was tired. The weather had also changed from sunny and quite pleasant to cloudy, windy, and snowy. I had a hard time paying attention as I was just trying to stay warm.

It was a very informative day. I liked it because it covered many of the basics I had previously learned and also presented some new information that is extremely valuable.

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